There’s an underlying kernel of irony at the center of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The film is the freshest film in the Star Wars franchise since George Lucas decided to add to the original trilogy. For all its flaws, it pushes the boundaries of the universe in many different directions, intent on being something new. At the same time, it is the tenth film in the franchise (three originals, three prequels plus the Clone Wars animated film, and the two Disney films). The routine solution for the tension between old and new has always been to side with the established lore of the franchise, occasionally to ridiculous levels. To the chagrin of many fans of the franchise, writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) bucks this trend violently.
Based on the Agatha Christie mystery novel of the same name, Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express disappoints by relegating the key elements of the mystery genre to mere mundane repetition. All of the hard-boiled fun of Christie’s source material ends up feeling like a bland paint-by-numbers. The movie contains a star-studded cast, with practically every character involved in the whodunit represented through an admirable performance. But for a film that is ostensibly subtle, intriguing, and mysterious, too little respect is paid to the details. The result is a lukewarm mystery where each blasé piece of detection by the legendary Hercule Poirot only makes the ultimate reveal more tired and disappointing.
Today the benevolent overlords at Disney™ released the first trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and I feel it is critical that I describe the things that I saw in that trailer. This is so other people that saw things in the trailer can read about the things that I saw and decide if they saw the same things that I saw. Hopefully, discussing this hopelessly commercial product of corporate group-think delivered by a media empire can give me and my readers a fleeting sense of connection in this unfeeling world, and also sell some toys.
You can’t really call Star Wars Episode VII– The Force Awakens a bad film with a straight face. The script is entirely serviceable with few logical inconsistencies or plot holes. Almost every character is well-established (Captain Phasma notwithstanding), and the performances are certainly on par with the original trilogy (especially with regards to the leads). Thematically, this is nothing that surprises us: it is the Light side vs. the Dark side, an allegorical simplification of the struggle between good and evil. But, from the get-go, there is a haunting echo: this doesn’t merely remind of the original trilogy, it outright pilfers its structure in hopes of re-capturing its magic. As plotpoint after familiar plotpoint falls into place, it becomes clear that this new trilogy is just calculated nostalgia.